Dark Dawn continues the tradition of complex "Pokemon"-powered battle mechanics and overworld puzzles.
I played Golden Sun: Dark Dawn at Nintendo's offices last week, the long-awaited third game in Camelot's Golden Sun series. The game seems similar in composition to the GBA titles, but now sports a fully 3D environment and automatic camera system.
Dark Dawn takes place 30 years after the "Golden Sun event," the conclusion of the previous game. As such, new players to the series do not need to have played the previous two games to understand what is going on; the game reveals the story from the eyes of the new protagonists, children of characters from the earlier games. Besides releasing alchemy to the world of Weyard, the Golden Sun event has reshaped the world completely, destroying towns, creating mountain ranges, and changing coastlines. More recently, mysterious dark Psynergy Vortexes have appeared across the land, threatening destruction as they grow.
Psynergy (magic) is based on the four elements, fire, water, earth, and air, and each character is an "Adept," with an affinity to a particular element. The primary protagonist is Matthew, an earth Adept and son of Isaac from the earlier games. He is accompanied by a air adept girl, Karis, and the hot-headed (and appropriately, a fire adept) Tyrell, son of Garret. The party can have up to four players at a time, and early in the game, Rief, student of Kraden, joins the party, giving players a full complement of elemental powers.
The game begins innocently enough with Tyrell trying to use his father's glider. He quickly and painfully finds that he is unable to use the artifact since he does not have his father's affinity to air. With the glider broken, the party is sent to seek out Kraden, who can perform repairs. This mission is quickly complicated due to the appearance of the Psynergy Vortexes, and a greater adventure unfolds.
Though 30 years have passed since the original game, nobody really knows the full effect of the Golden Sun event. It is, however, becoming increasingly evident that the ancient world held many secrets, and a deeper understanding will be necessary. A cryptic language adorns many structures, and early on, players will find a book in some ruins that enables them to translate the text.
Players can use either the stylus or traditional controls to play the game, or a combination of both. The control schemes are integrated seamlessly, so players should be able to navigate with ease no matter their style of play.
Golden Sun is well known for its overworld puzzles, and Dark Dawn continues the tradition. Players will have to manipulate their environment using Psynergy to progress. For example, players may need to push columns into position to cross a chasm, water a vine to have it grow so that it can be climbed, or activate a crystal with a fireball. Specific Psynergy spells can be assigned to the L and R buttons to give easy access to repeated actions. Like everything else, these actions can be directed with the stylus or the D-pad.
The Golden Sun battle system is more complex than most RPGs. It's a bit complicated at first, but the possibilities are exciting. You can try to "attack, attack, attack," but this manner of play will not be very effective, as the game encourages the use of Psynergy. Characters' Psynergy meters automatically replenish over time. A throwback to older J-RPG design, battles are completely turn-based and encounters are random.
Throughout the world live Djinn, Pokemon-esque characters who provide magical powers. Some Djinn will join freely, while others much be defeated in battle before coming along. During the demo, I encountered one Djinn, on which I had to use Psynergy and a bit of critical thinking to trap. All 72 Djinn from the previous game return, but this time, each has their own unique look. Players can "set" collected Djinn to each character, boosting stats and granting spells. It's through this system that battle becomes complex. Djinn can actually be used directly in battle, setting off a powerful attack, after which they go on "standby" as a colored floating orb on the top screen. However, once used, any statuses and spells granted to the player become unavailable until they are set again.
Multiple Djinn in standby can be used to summon a god, which will deal much more damage to enemies after an impressive display of power. Once used, the Djinn must regenerate over several turns before returning automatically to the assigned character. The summons are based on a wide range of mythologies, including Greek, Roman, and Egyptian. For example, one of the Egyptian gods launches a rocketing stone first from a far away pyramid, which flies in to pummel enemies, and then, returns to its origin.
Each character also has their own, limited inventory. This structure means that recovery items must be distributed thoughtfully to avoid the situation where a fallen member was carrying all of the party's healing capability. I was playing fairly early in the game, and with the wrong moves, it appears relatively easy to make a fatal mistake in this regard. Individual player statuses and abilities are very important, so serious thought is often required to ensure victory.
Dark Dawn is fairly text-heavy, with manga-style emotions appearing as emoticons above the characters' heads as they talk. Occasionally, players may be given the choice to respond with differing emotions, which will change other characters' conversations, but otherwise doesn't affect the game in a serious way. One interesting addition to the dialog is hyperlinks. You know all of those words that get highlighted in games such as those from the Zelda series? Now you can actually click on them, which loads an entry from the game's encyclopedia on the upper screen, ensuring that players will never lose track of the game's mythos.
Dark Dawn brings a unique combination of puzzle and battle mechanics not prevalent in other RPGs, resulting in a sense of freshness. Its graphics are colorful, and the music is standard Sakuraba fare. The game should be pleasing to long-time fans, but is quite inviting for new players, as well (at least, I am new to the series, and I am definitely intrigued). Golden Sun: Dark Dawn launches in North America on November 29. Check out the latest trailer below.